Chinese exonyms

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When a foreign placename occurs in Chinese text, the problem arises of spelling it in Chinese characters, given the limited phonetics of Mandarin Chinese, and the possible meaning of those characters when treated as Chinese words. For example:

  • "London Heathrow Airport" is usually rendered in Chinese text as 倫敦希斯路機場 (Lúndūn Xīsīlù Jīchǎng), with the English pronunciation of 'London' fairly accurate, and of 'Heathrow' less accurate: literally as Chinese this means "kinship, honest" (for London), "hope/rare, given/this, road" (for Heathrow), "aircraft, field", with the last syllable of "Heathrow" rendered as "lu" although the more accurate "lo" and "lou" are known Chinese words. However, the Cantonese pronunciation of 希斯路 is a lot closer to "Heathrow".

Names of foreign nations are sometimes shortened to their first character when used in compounds.

For placenames in Korea or Japan, the Chinese exonym is often the Chinese pronunciation of the hanja or kanji writing of the placename. In some cases, especially in Japan, the Chinese pronunciation may be completely unlike the native-language pronunciation.

Places[edit]

Native name Chinese Pinyin Meaning as Chinese Notes
California 加州 Jiāzhōu addition province from Cantonese transliteration
Hiroshima (廣島) 廣島 Guǎngdǎo Broad Island in Japan
Hong Kong 香港 Xiānggǎng perfume/incense, harbour "Hong Kong" is Cantonese form.
Liverpool 利物浦 Lìwùpǔ profit, thing, beach
Los Angeles 洛杉矶 Luòshānjī Luo River, Cunninghamia, levee/jetty
Osaka (大坂) 大坂 Dàbǎn Big Hillside in Japan
San Francisco 旧金山 Jiùjīnshān Old Gold Mountain renamed by Chinese immigrants
Toronto 多伦多 Duōlúnduō many, relations, many
Tokyo (東京) 東京 Dōngjīng East(ern) Capital in Japan
Vancouver 温哥华 Wēngēhuá warm, (elder) brother, magnificent/China

Nations and regions[edit]

Native name Chinese Pinyin Meaning as Chinese Notes
Canada 加拿大 Jiānádà add, lift, big 加 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Canada"/"Canadian".
France 法国 Fǎguó law/rules, land 法 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "France"/"French".
Germany 德国 Déguó moral, land
Italy 意大利 Yìdàlì intention, big, profit 意 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Italy"/"Italian".
Japan (日本) 日本 Rìběn sun, origin
Nepal 尼泊尔 Níbó'ěr Buddhist monk, mooring, you 尼 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Nepal(ese)".
Spain 西班牙 Xībānyá west, team, tooth/teeth
United Kingdom 英国 Yīngguó outstanding, land 英 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Britain"/"British"/"England"/"English".
United States 美国 Měiguó beautiful land 美 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "America(n)".